There’s a line from the first episode of Chewing Gum that still makes me laugh when I think about it. The E4 show’s main character, 24-year-old Tracey Gordon, is stocking the corner shop she works in and chatting to her best friend Candice.
She then turns to the camera and says matter-of-factly: “Candice is the buffest girl I’ve ever seen on the whole of my estate but she’s got learning difficulties so it sort of balances it out. So, like, I can be best friends with her and I ain’t jealous or anything.”
We’ve all had thoughts like this when comparing ourselves to other people we know, but we’d never admit it. And the show, set on an estate in Tower Hamlets, is full of these astutely observed moments.
And Tracey, with her awkward sexual situations and complete naivety (she literally doesn’t know what a threesome is) has become a TV highlight for plenty of people who have found Chewing Gum not only a refreshing look at youth and sex, but also at council estate life. Just as Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves showed a world that looked happy and optimistic rather than bleak and toxic, Chewing Gum shows inner-city life without demonising it.
Even when Tracey tries to buy cocaine for a friend, the much-feared, mythologised drug dealer turns out to be an elderly man who also bakes really delicious banoffee pie.
But while the characters and stories are really strong, it’s the mesmerising Michaela Coel – who wrote the show and plays Tracey – whose performance makes it such an addictive show. She’s an actor whose comedic timing and physical comedy are so spot-on, you’d happily watch her in anything. The sexually adventurous Candice, played by Danielle Walters, is also wonderful, as is Connor’s totally unabashed Mum (EastEnders’ Tanya Franks).
Tracey’s first ever line in Chewing Gum is, “My mum was gonna name me Alyssa, which means sweet angel in Indian. But when I came out, she looked at me and called me Tracey.”
Her mum was right, she’s not a sweet angel. Thank God. She’s crude, confused and deeply human. If ever there was a show that deserved a second series, it was this…